It is hard to tell which says more about Tobias Harris: That the slumping Pistons surged after they acquired him, winning his first four games in the starting lineup, or that hours after he was traded by the Magic, he remained in Orlando and made a charity appearance to which he had made a commitment.
Either way, both he and his new team believe he is in the right place. The Pistons had a clunker of a 102-89 loss to the Knicks at the Garden on Saturday night, but Harris had a solid game — 18 points and eight rebounds while having to guard Carmelo Anthony — and the power forward from Half Hollow Hills West is expanding his reputation for helping whoever happens to be around him, on and off the court.
So despite the fact that the Magic dealt him to Detroit for Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova on Feb. 16, he never considered backing out on his scheduled appearance before high school kids that day. In fact, he never even mentioned the trade and never grumbled to the audience about how he had expected to be in Orlando for a full four years after signing a $64-million contract in July.
“Kids are there to have a good time and see me and stuff like that. I didn’t want to let any kid down. Kids are let down a lot in life. I tried to keep my word,” he said after the Pistons’ shootaround Saturday morning at John Jay College.
Harris knows that people can change their minds — he did, after all, switch from Hills West to Long Island Lutheran and back again — and that changes generally work out for the best. The move to Detroit gave him a big boost up the standings (the Pistons entered Saturday night holding the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference) and an appreciative new franchise.
“You hear stuff a lot of times. I’ve been traded before, so I understand what goes down on the trade deadline,” said Harris, who was used sparingly by coach Scott Skiles when both were with the Bucks and wound up playing under Skiles again with the Magic. “Rather than be surprised, I was just excited to have a new home, to have a new opportunity. It’s a great team.”
The Pistons were far from great against the Knicks, getting outshot 60 to 35 percent in a 57-42 first half. “This was a hiccup,’’ Harris said, although coach and president Stan Van Gundy had a tougher take: “We should all be disappointed. This was ridiculous.’’ But the Pistons still are in the thick of the playoff race and are in much better shape than they were last month, when they had lost 12 of 19 and seemed lottery-bound.
Saturday night notwithstanding, Harris gives the Pistons just the type of guy they like: Someone who can score but is just as happy if somebody else does.
“We have him setting pick-and-rolls, we have him handling the ball in pick-and-rolls, we’ve put him in the post, we’ve isolated him, we can run him off screens. There’s really not much he can’t do on the offensive end,” Van Gundy said. “He’s another unselfish guy in the way he plays the game. He doesn’t pound the ball, he doesn’t take a lot of dribbles. He makes his move, he shoots it or he moves it. So it’s easy for our guys to adapt to playing with him.”
All five starters scored in double figures in his first four starts (the fifth was a loss on the road to the Spurs, who are unbeaten at home). “It’s a good fit,” Harris said.
Harris is proud of the season his sister Tori had for Hills West. “Also the boys team, they have a championship game,’’ he said, referring to Sunday’s Long Island Class AA championship game between Hills West and Baldwin. “I follow them.”
Harris is determined to develop a following in Detroit. This past Monday, less than two weeks into his Detroit career, he appeared on behalf of the Pistons with Mayor Dave Bing, the former superstar guard, to announce the team’s $300,000 project on behalf of schools.
“If I can make an impact, in any way,” he said, “I’m going to do the best I can.”